Late Friday afternoon, roughly two hours ("shortly after noon" Pacific Time) after the press release announcing Oregon Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber's resignation effective next Wednesday, Philip Bump at the Washington Post's "The Fix" blog tried to explain away the national press's nearly complete failure to cover Kitzhaber's mounting ethical and now potentially criminal problems for nearly four months. This is the same bunch which obsessed over Republican Governor Chris Christie's "Bridgegate" non-scandal for months on end.
Bump specifically linked to and quoted — and, predictably mischaracterized — yours truly's related Thursday afternoon post at NewsBusters. The short answer to Bump's whining is simply that Kitzhaber's problems were self-evidently very serious from the get-go in October, and grew by degrees with virtually each passing week, while Bridgegate, which was beaten like a drum for months on end, never progressed beyond the status of a pathetically weak hatchet job.
The amount of coverage of Christie establishes the double standard. Our Scott Whitlock found the network morning and evening shows aired 88 minutes of stories in the first 48 hours. There would be no way Kitzhaber (or any Democrat, even in the BosWash corridor) would draw that much coverage without killing someone.
Let's look at just a few of the Kitzhaber/Hayes-related reports and blog entires filed in October, i.e., four months ago, by Willamette Week's Nigel Jaquiss, who did the vast majority of the early scandal-related heavy lifting. Jaquiss's first report alone — a damning 4,000-word expose which was obviously the product of exhaustive journalistic legwork — had exponentially more substance than anything legions of reporters ever dug up on Christie (bolds are mine throughout this post):
Oct. 8 — First Lady Inc.
Cylvia Hayes has two careers. She pursues both out of the governor’s office.
... (Hayes') dual roles have created tension in Kitzhaber’s office and have raised concerns that she may be violating provisions ORS Chapter 244, the state’s government ethics law. The law prohibits public officials from engaging in conflicts of interest, from using their positions for private gain and from using public resources for personal benefit.
As a public official, records show, Hayes has pushed for economic and energy policies while accepting payments from private advocacy groups seeking to influence those same policies.
In addition, Hayes has regularly directed her state-paid assistant to do work for her private consulting business. And she has used her title as first lady and as adviser to the governor at events when she was not representing the state but instead appearing as a paid consultant.
... Records show Hayes last year signed new consulting contracts worth at least $85,000 for work that overlapped with her work in the governor’s office.
Oct. 9 — Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes' Undisclosed Third Marriage Was to 18-Year-Old Immigrant
Hayes: "Governor did not know until yesterday."
In 1997, King County, Wash., marriage records show, Hayes married a teenage Ethiopian immigrant 11 years younger than she. It’s not clear why Hayes entered into the marriage and why she has kept it secret. However, public records raise questions about whether the marriage was legitimate or whether it was a way to help the young man with his immigration status.
Obtaining residency or citizenship for an immigrant through marriage to a legal resident is often called a "green card marriage." It is a federal crime for both participants if it is determined that the marriage is a sham and executed solely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits. It’s illegal whether or not the U.S. citizen is paid to take part in the marriage.
Oct. 9 — Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes Confesses to Breaking Federal Law By Taking Part In an Illegal Marriage to Immigrant She admits she got $5,000 to marry an 18-year-old Ethiopian in 1997
Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes today confessed to breaking federal law in 1997 by entering into an illegal marriage with an 18-year-old Ethiopian immigrant.
Hayes, who is now engaged to Gov. John Kitzhaber, says she was paid approximately $5,000 to marry the man, Abraham B. Abraham. Hayes had kept the marriage secret because she was "embarrassed." She claims Kitzhaber did not know until this week, when WW first raised questions about it.
... Hayes called the sham marriage "a serious mistake." She added that she did not report the income she received from the marriage on her taxes. Filing a false tax return is against the law.
... The statute of limitations may have expired in the case of Hayes, but Abraham could still face immigration penalties.
Oct. 15 — Kitzhaber's Staff Aided Financially Troubled Former Client of First Lady Cylvia Hayes
The governor's office intervened with state Energy Department to delay foreclosure
... It was November 2011, and the (Pronghorn) golf course had been slammed by the recession that had battered Bend. The course’s developer, California-based Hix Rubenstein, faced foreclosure on a $58 million bank loan and a $1.8 million loan from the state of Oregon.
The company’s owner, Tom Hix, needed help in a hurry.
... Emails released to WW under the state's public records law show Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office went to extraordinary lengths to intervene in the Hix case and to delay a scheduled foreclosure sale of Hayes’ former client’s property.
The state loan came from the Oregon Department of Energy, and officials there tell WW they cannot remember another example of Kitzhaber’s office getting so deeply involved in the case of a troubled loan.
... The records show Hayes’ influence in the governor’s office on behalf of her private consulting clients ran deeper than has been previously known. Emails show Hayes was kept up to date on Hix’s pressure on the governor’s office to delay foreclosure.
The records also raise new questions about why Kitzhaber required so little oversight of the intersection of Hayes’ personal business and her role as a public official.
So in the space of seven days in October, Willamette Week revealed:
- Oregon's First Lady's massive conflicts of interest as a delcared "public official."
- The existence of her illegal sham marriage, which forced out a confession of feloniously failing to report the related income.
- The involvement of the Governor himself in pressuring a state agency to delay carrying out its legal obligations.
While Hayes's sham marriage caused a bit of a national ripple, the other two items just noted did not — nor did a tidal wave of other revelations over the next three months.
The national press didn't really give substantive attention to the Kitzhaber/Hayes calamity until Thursday afternoon, when the New York Times and Associated Press finally filed significant stories. That was five days after the Oregonian, the state's left-leaning and largest newspaper, called for Kitzhaber's resignation — a development which itself should arguably have been a major national broadcast news story.
In light of what I have just described, Philip Bump's excuses ("Why the media paid more attention to Chris Christie than John Kitzhaber") for saturation coverage of Christie compared to the virtual Kitzhaber/Hayes blackout are laughably absurd:
"Until there was a smoking gun, the national media largely ignored the bridge scandal, too."
There never was a "smoking gun" on Bridgegate. It shot blanks. Christie was cleared. There was never any good reason to believe he wouldn't be.
"John Kitzhaber hasn't been mentioned as a presidential candidate" and "New Jersey is a much larger state, in a much larger region."
Those might be valid arguments if there were comparable levels of wrongdoing. But the Kitzhaber/Hayes situation was clearly far more serious from the very start. As noted, Christie was cleared — and again, anyone not obsessed with attaching the word "scandal" to Christie in voters' minds even if he did nothing wrong could tell that Bridgegate would turn out to be a nothingburger.
Bump's "presidential candidate" excuse is really an inadvertent admission that the press was and remains bound and determined to take down Christie and any other potential Republican candidate as it pooh-poohs Hillary Clinton's and Elizabeth Warren's serious and very real liabilities. Thanks for that, Phil.
"Much more of the national media is based near New Jersey than Oregon."
What a copout. All the "national media" had to do is relay what Jaquiss found.
"It took about three months for Christie to go national. It took three weeks longer for Kitzhaber."
What a crock. Again, it's all about degree of seriousness.
Even assuming the worst about Bridgegate, it was about lane closures. That's far from being inconsequential, but for the matter to be relevant to Christie, one had to believe that he is a such a vindictive micromanager that he would personally order them as political retribution — charges breezily made by his political enemies which were found to have no substance.
Niquiss's first week of reports at Willamette demonstrated far more serious and comprehensive problems with Kitzhaber and Hayes.
Bump wrote that yours truly alleged that the national press "barely recognized" Kitzhaber's name. Though it may be true, it isn't what I wrote. I instead indicated that even those who have closely followed the news barely recognize his name, perhaps until today — although the Governor's strategically timed Friday afternoon resignation before a holiday weekend will probably go a long way towards minimizing its visibility.
Finally, Bump condescendingly asks, "Was some massive conspiracy afoot, granting Kitzhaber an extra three weeks?"
First, it took four months for Kitzhaber/Hayes's obvious initial seriousness to gain national recognition; the Christie situation never was genuinely serious. Second, it wasn't a conspiracy as much as it was institutional laziness. But third, the national press has shown a remarkable ability to shove that laziness aside, get off its collective butt, and do its job when a Republican governor or other public official even gets into the general vicinity of scandal — and when it's a Republican who might run for President, there seems to be no limit to the effort exerted to tar him or her.
Thus, Bump's attempt at brow-beating yours truly and others who see the blindingly obvious Kitzhaber-Christie double standard is 100 percent substance-free bluster.
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.